By Jeff Brumley
Baptists, communion and wine are words rarely used together. But they will be the next four Sundays as First Baptist Church in Dayton, Ohio, hosts an Episcopal parish for worship while the latter’s building undergoes renovations.
The joint services will include Anglican rituals of preparation for the bread and wine used in the Eucharist. Grape juice will be offered at two stations for Baptists.
Rather than eyebrows or complaints, the news instead raised questions in the American Baptist congregation about why grape juice is used in the Lord’s Supper at all, said Pastor Rodney Kennedy, a former Southern Baptist from Louisiana.
“We are about as high church as you can get and still call yourself Baptist,” Kennedy explained. “Most e-mails from my congregation have said they are going to slip over to the wine line.”
While contemplative and other liturgical worship forms are increasingly embraced in the Baptist world, few would embrace wine for communion, Baptist historian Walter B. Shurden said.
“Even today I would think it would be somewhat unusual,” said Shurden, minister-at-large and professor emeritus at Mercer University. “Most Baptist churches do not use alcohol of any kind in their services and that comes out of the Prohibition era.”
Also, some churches may avoid the use of alcohol out of concern for alcoholics in their congregations, he added. “It’s just a practical thing,” Shurden said. “I don’t think it was as much an anti-Catholic thing as it was embracing the Prohibition movement.”
First Baptist’s action will align the congregation with the much more conservative Primitive Baptist movement, much of which rejects grape juice as liberal and unblibcal, said Bill Leonard, professor of Baptist studies and church history at Wake Forest School of Divinity.
“I’ve wondered for years why Baptists fought so hard for the biblical model of immersion as non-negotiable, but gave up wine so readily in the temperance movement,” Leonard said. “Many Baptist writers raised similar questons in the early 20th century.”
Shurden said it’s equally interesting that a Baptist church is hosting an Episcopal congregation – which itself is rare. “The ecumenical dimension intrigues me,” he said. “I don’t think, historically, you would find the earliest Baptists doing that.”
The two churches have long collaborated on ministry and education projects downtown. On Ash Wednesday last year, Paddock said he and Kennedy imposed ashes on passersby as part of the Ashes to Go campaign.
“We do a lot of things together, so this was a no-brainer when we realized we were not going to be able to get into our building,” he said.
First Baptist’s willingness to accommodate Episcopal Eucharistic practices also made it easy, the priest said.
Those practices include saying the prayer of consecration, known as the Great Thanksgiving, which is believed to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit in the bread and wine, Paddock said. The church’s teaching is that Christ is present during communion, which is open to any baptized Christian.
“Some Anglicans believe he’s physically present, others believe he is present in the heart and mind of the believer but not in a literal way in the bread and the wine,” Paddock said. “But we don’t try to get too specific overall in our teachings.”
He added that both congregations already use the same lectionary and that First Baptist’s liturgical worship style, including vestments and acolytes, also makes it a good fit for joint worship.
“Rod and I will both concelebrate the Eucharist,” Paddock said. “We will distribute communion (by intinction) in four parts of the church – two with grape juice, and two with wine.”
To have prohibited Christ Episcopal from using wine would have been un-neighborly, Kennedy said. “I told my congregation that is the essence of hospitality to make them feel that this is their space,” he said. “This fits with our ecumenical spirit.”
But it will be different for the Baptists, who are accustomed to monthly communion delivered to them in the pews, Kennedy said. The church’s constitutional prohibition against alcohol on campus will have to be suspended while hosting the visitors.
‘A teachable moment’
But Kennedy added that policy may eventually be revoked as some have expressed interest in being able to hold wedding receptions on the property. Plus wine in communion could continue past February.
“We have a communion service every Sunday morning in the chapel,” Kennedy said. “It’s at that service where we would most likely go to having wine.”
Kennedy said he and Paddock may lead a Sunday school class aimed at examining Episcopal and Baptist theological teachings and practices.
That would be fine with First Baptist member Andy Black, who once chaired the church’s worship board.
Black said he’s not so much interested in discussing what Anglicans do, but what Baptists do – and why.
“Seems to me this could be a teachable moment to ask about our practices,” Black wrote in an e-mail to Kennedy. Those practices include communion in separate cups and the use of grape juice “and whether – and how – they are theologically grounded.”
A graduate of Baylor’s Truett Theological Seminary now working on a doctorate in theology at the University of Dayton, Black said the alcohol and non-alcohol lines at church on Sunday will likely create a “helpful awkwardness” for Baptists who must choose between the two.
“It hits you in the face when you have to make this kind of choice: which line do we go in?” Black said. “And you have to ask, why do we have grape juice instead of wine and do we believe those reasons still speak to who we are?”
‘Can Baptists partake’?
First Baptist member Gina Greenwood won’t be wrestling with that question, however.
Greenwood, who described herself as a theological conservative, sent Kennedy an e-mail moments after his announcement.
“Can a Baptist go to the Episcopal station?” she e-mailed Kennedy. “I wouldn’t want to offend them, but whether it is wine or juice doesn’t make a bit of difference to me.”
“Yes you can and should,” he wrote back. “I am.”